Best Smokers for Beginners in 2020 – Great Value, Easy to Learn On

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Smoking meat, fish, and even cheese is a really good, immensely rewarding and tasty thing to do.

But many beginners can get discouraged by the first results from their enthusiastic, but often unresearched initial efforts on their shiny new smoker, ultimately pushing it into a corner of the garage, never to be used again.

To avoid that false start, it helps to make an informed buying decision, making sure your first smoker is easy to use, and easy to get excellent results with, with the minimum of learning to go through. It helps to start out with one of the best smokers for beginners.

Close up of a selection of meat in a two-tier BBQ smoker
© / urban_light

In this article, we’ll Introduce what we feel are the best smokers for beginners and the budding pitmaster who is just starting out. We’ll group them by fuel type – charcoal, electric, gas, pellet, or a combination.

So before you click “buy” or gallop out to a can’t-miss sale, read this article.

You will come away with an (increased) understanding of how smokers operate, key features and functions, and be clear on the type of smoker best suited for your entry into smoker-land.

We want you to be a long-time smoker, the best way to get there is to enjoy your experience from the start, and a big part of this is having the right equipment.

Recommended Best Smokers for Beginners, for a First Foray into the World of Smoking:

Note: Clicking the above links will take you to further information, current prices and customer reviews on Amazon.

Best Charcoal Smokers for Beginners

The following 2 models are, in our opinion among the very best choices of charcoal smoker for the beginner just starting out. Easy to learn on, great value and produce amazing results.

Weber Smokey Mountain

Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker 18 Inch Smoker

First Impressions from Look and Design

A large black capsule on legs, the Weber 721001 Smokey Mountain would probably appear in a dictionary next to the word “smoker.”

It is a charcoal smoker, briquettes being the most recommended, with wood chunks or chips added to the coals for smoke.

What’s in the box

  • Lid w/temperature gauge and handle
  • Ring assembly (main section of grill)
  • Bowl (grill base)
  • Charcoal chamber
  • 2-gallon porcelain water pan
  • Door
  • Legs (with a packet of screws, washers, and nuts)
  • Grill straps
  • Three grates – handled, non-handled, charcoal
  • Full-length heavy-duty vinyl cover
  • Manual

Build Quality

The coating of porcelain enamel over the steel inside and out makes it incredibly rust-resistant and long-lasting.

It accommodates layered smoking. Two plated steel grates each provide 18.5” cooking areas, large enough to handle a turkey and pork shoulder together in one session.

Airflow is controlled by two aluminum dampers on the bottom and a vent in the lid control. These vents allow you to precisely control the airflow and facilitate really dialing into any specific temperature you require.

The side fuel door is also made of aluminum and can be attached to swing down like an oven door or it can simply be taken off.

At the bottom inside rests a porcelain steel water basin that acts as mass to stabilize temperatures and keep the cooking environment moist. Its 3-gallon capacity means little, if any, need for refills during the smoking session.

You may still want to use mitts, but the lid handle is made of heat-resistant glass-reinforced nylon which should spare many burned hands. Although it has a temperature gauge on the lid, a silicone thermometer probe port built into the side makes it easy for those who prefer to use automatic temperature controllers or remote digital thermometers.

Ease of Use

There’s a slight learning curve needed to get to grips with starting and maintaining a slow burning fire and controlling temperatures with the use of the vents, but it’s really not hard, is even quite fun, and once you’ve done a few cooks you’ll have mastered it.

There’s also many, many simple to follow youtube videos where people show you how to fire it up and maintain a steady temp.

So all in all, ease of use is not a worry.


  • Overall size / dimensions / weight: 41” H x 19” W x 21” D; 39 lbs.
  • Semi- Portable
  • Fuel type: Charcoal
  • Cooking capacity: 481 square inches
  • Pre-heat time required: 30 minutes
  • Temperature range: 100-350°F

Available Support

  • is the official website, offering support via chat, email, and phone. Owners can subscribe to a free newsletter containing product information and recipes. The site also allows owners to register their purchase; view manuals, schematics, and warranty information; browse FAQs, and track orders. Social media sites for help:
  • The Virtual Weber Bullet, unofficial fan site provides extensive information and community discussion forums for all things Weber (charcoal, another website is devoted to Weber gas grills)

Accessories & Attachments Available

  • Chimney starter
  • Wood chunks
  • Smoker cover
  • Lighter cubes
  • Cooking utensils
  • Cleaning tools
  • Thermometers
  • Timers
  • Books
  • Brand clothing

Who is this Model Best Suited to?

If you want the basics of great smoking, the Weber Smokey mountain cooker is the Weber for you. The simple design and easy functionality make it a no-brainer first-time buy, an excellent smoker for beginners, and should definitely be on your shortlist.

Other Models Might Suit You if:

You want to feed armies or smoke numerous full racks of ribs. The cooking surfaces are generous but just a tad small if you’re going to lay a few racks of ribs flat.

You’re also better off with a different model if you’d like to have the option of grilling hot and fast on the same appliance. This really is an out and out smoker, and cannot be used for high heat grilling, or baking pizzas.

What We Like About it

  • Easily maintained temperature for 6-8 hours
  • Thermometer ports
  • Large cooking capacity

What We Don’t Like About it

  • Pictogram assembly instructions
  • Long reach down into the pit to pull up the bottom rack presents a risk of bare arms/elbows encountering hot Long oven mitts are a good idea
  • The door can become easily bent, allowing unneeded venting for heat and smoke to leak out (aftermarket door upgrades are available and very popular.)


Click to Learn More / Buy from Amazon


Pit Barrel Cooker

18-1/2 in. Classic Pit Barrel Cooker Package

First Impressions From Look and Design

A shiny black barrel with handles which likes like it should hold something industrial. It’s a very ‘manly’ looking smoker, and will be sure to attract looks and comments when your friends come over for a cook.

The initial panic at wondering how to get food in and out of such a tall container melted away upon learning of the hook-and-hang method for large pieces, what the manufacturer describes as a type of vertical rotisserie.

It’s a charcoal fuelled smoker, with chunks and chips of wood added to produce smoke.

What’s in the Box

  • 30-gallon porcelain-coated steel drum
  • 3-point stand
  • Two hanging rods
  • Eight stainless steel hooks
  • Grill grate
  • Charcoal basket
  • Wooden hook remover
  • Rubs

Build Quality

Solid one-piece construction and a tight-fitting lid make this one of the easiest smokers to set up; even the handles are fixed onto the sides and provide a convenient hook for hanging the lid. It’s as sturdy as it looks, and made of steel coated with porcelain enamel.

The coal basket holds enough for 6 to 8 hours of uninterrupted cooking; simply load, set it into the bottom of the barrel, and light.

As well as smoking, the grate does allows the grilling of meats and vegetables directly on it or on available planks or stones. Half-width grates allow a combination of vertical (hanging large cuts of meat) and horizontal cooking (veg on grates) in one session; You can achieve a complete meal of produce and protein in one unit.

However, in our opinion, it’s not the best for direct grilling, and other models are better if you want a grill and smoker combo. We would personally class this is a single-purpose, dedicated smoker ourselves. And for smoking, this is a seriously good bit of kit!

Ease of Use

Ridiculously easy to set up and use. There are no dials and dampers in need of adjustment.


  • Overall size / dimensions / weight: 36” h (including lid and stand) x 25” w (including handles); 57 pounds
  • Portable
  • Fuel type: Charcoal
  • Cooking capacity: easily fit 8 racks of ribs, 2-3 pork butts/shoulders or briskets depending on their size. Our Turkey hangers, allow for 2 good size (13-16 pound) birds. Using our Hinged Grate, hang 4 racks of ribs with grill space for fish, burgers, and/or vegetables” [SOURCE:]
  • Pre-heat time required: 12 – 15 minutes
  • Temperature range: 275^ – 310^ F (on average)

Available Support

Manufacturer website, with contact, videos and recipes

User community:

Accessories & Attachments Available

The most unique extra is a logo plate which can be customized to US military branches or Police or Fire Departments. They are provided to active duty and veterans at no cost.

Standard accessories include gloves, a hinged grate, and full-length cover. Rubs are also available.

Who is This Model Best Suited to?

If you want the most straightforward, least fussy route to great smoked food, consider this model.

If the idea of hanging meats over fire is really appealing, and you also want an industrial looking, serious bit of kit, check out the PBC.

Other Models Might Suit You if:

You’re interested in cold smoking. The cooker is designed to run at a temperatures ranging from 275-310°F, where many recipes call for low n slow smoking at 225°F.

Also, if you want the option to flip burgers, bake pizza and more, then maybe check out some other options in our list.

What We Like About the PBC

  • Effortless setup, no seasoning required
  • Uncomplicated design, very little can break or go wrong.

What We Don’t Like About the PBC

  • Somewhat limited natural temperature range, though great for hot smoking, it’s intended use.
  • Lifting the entire cooker to dump ashes (but the side handles are really useful!)
  • External temp can reach 375°F – common sense caution can eliminate burn risks


Click to Learn More / Buy from Amazon


Best Electric Smokers for Beginners

If charcoal and fire management’s not your thing, perhaps the relative ease of an electric would be more suitable? if so, we might have found the perfect model…

Masterbuilt 20070910 Digital Electric Smoker

Masterbuilt 20070910 30-Inch Black Electric Digital Smoker, Top Controller

First Impressions From Look and Design

It can’t be a safe because there’s no combination lock on it. And of course, safes don’t have little control boxes and a damper on top. Unfasten the lock on the side – it looks just like a refrigerator with a weird vegetable bin at the bottom.

Honestly though, the prominently displayed logo, well, even the name could be mistaken for a safe by those who are very, very new to the world of smokers and grills. Getting past the mistaken identity, the Masterbuilt DES looks like a safe place to entrust your meats, poultry, and fish.

Being one of the standards in the smoker/grill industry, the 20070910 looks as solid as a safe, and is likely the easiest smoker to use in this list. Despite being powered by electricity, this unit should never be used indoors, not even in the garage, since it generates carbon monoxide.

What’s in the Box

  • Smoker
  • Legs
  • Digital control panel
  • Four chrome-coated smoking racks
  • Wood chip tray
  • Drip pan
  • Water bowl
  • Grease tray
  • Air damper
  • Assorted hardware
  • Instruction manual

Build Quality

It’s a very sturdy and weighty unit at 45.9 pounds, telling of its high build quality with top-notch materials.

Digital controls on this electricity-run smoker make this a great smoking experience for beginners and seasoned smokers (yes, pun intended). Add wood chips through the loader on the side every hour for maximum smoke flavor.

100% insulated and the door is rubber-sealed for energy efficient smoking which keeps your cooking within predicted timeframes and keeps the smoke flavor from blowing away in the wind.

The buttons and instructions on the control box are clearly marked. And the auto shutoff feature means you can take your time getting out to the smoker without fear of your food overcooking.

Ease of Use

Time and temperature are easy to set with the digital temp controller, and the smoker shuts itself off once the desired cooking time is reached.

A drip pan on the back of the smoker also simplifies the cleaning process.


  • Overall size / dimensions / weight: 20.4” w x 19.9” L x 33.3” w; 45.1 pounds
  • Semi-permanent location – It can be moved, but is heavy so you will not move it often.
  • Fuel type: Electric
  • Cooking capacity: 730 square inches of cooking space on four racks enables smoking up to 80 pounds of food
  • Pre-heat time required: 30-45 minutes
  • Temperature range: 100 – 275°F

Available Support

Manufacturer website ( has a very short FAQ for this product and offers support by phone and email. Social media support can be found on:

Accessories & Attachments Available

  • 30″ Fish and Vegetable Smoking Mat
  • Long Handle Skimmer
  • 5″ Pot and Basket
  • Chicken Stand
  • 30″ Digital Electric
  • Smoker Stand
  • Universal Side Shelf

Who is This Model Best Suited to?

Someone who likes no-frills functionality at a not-so-expensive price. With no fire to start or manage, almost literally push button cooking, this must appear on any shortlist as the best electric smoker for beginners.

Other Models Might Suit You if:

You want something that doesn’t look so no frills and plainly functional. Many digital smokers come with glass doors for those who really want to see the smoking process.

What We Like About it

  • Durable
  • Easy to use
  • Efficient

What We Don’t Like About it

  • Hard to read display
  • Lack of handles makes it awkward to carry
  • Small drain pan can fill up quickly
  • The control panel is not waterproof


Click to Learn More / Buy from Amazon


Best Beginner Gas Smoker

Following are our top two choices for the best beginner gas smokers on the market, carefully chosen to be easy to use yet high enough quality to last and give great results.

Smoke Hollow 2-Door Propane Smoker

Smoke Hollow 38202G Propane Gas Smoker by Masterbuilt, 2-Door, 38'

First impressions From Look and Design

For some reason, this reminds me of a clunky robot in a 1930s B movie. Its sharp angles and bulk also give it a solid, dependable, nothin’-but-business appearance. The door opens up on four chrome shelves.

So on first looks? It’s no frills, well built and means business. And that’s a good thing.

What’s in the Box

  • Welded steel smoker cabinet
  • Upper and lower doors
  • Door latch & door handle kit
  • Burner chamber assembly
  • legs
  • damper
  • heat indicator
  • Wooden box rack, chip box & box lid
  • Water bowl
  • Four cooking grids, eight short grid tracks, four long grid tracks
  • Owner’s manual
  • Name plate
  • Sausage hanger
  • Cabinet assembly
  • Grid support brackets
  • Burner chamber, burner, burner tube, burner support bracket & burner shield panel
  • Igniter electrode, wire & push-button igniter unit
  • LP control knob
  • Hose-vale-regulator assembly
  • Chamber air baffle
  • Control panel
  • Hardware (nuts, bolts, washers)
  • Two carry handles

Build Quality

It feels OK, but not as high quality as some other models in their range. However, that is reflected in the comparatively affordable price.

4-Chrome Plated Cooking Grids can be used in a variety of heights to accommodate foods large and small.

A sausage handler fits at the top of the chamber, an invitation to give sausage-making a try.

The generous 3.4 cubic foot cooking space can house four butts at a time. It ignites with the press of a button, burns at 20,000 BTUs.

All is impressively sturdy, feels built to last and not at all flimsy or cheap looking or feeling.

Ease of Use

Easy to light and up to temp quickly.

A temperature gauge allows monitoring without having to open the door and create temperature fluctuations which can throw the unit off of the ideal temperature for minutes on end.

The water bowl keeps you from running with refills; its generous capacity can hold enough water for up to 3 hours.

All in all, easy to learn and master, there’s really not much to it.


  • Overall size / dimensions / weight: 38” w x 20” h x 14” d; 68 pounds
  • Semi-permanent location – Can be moved if necessary, but not built to be mobile (no wheels and is quite heavy.)
  • Fuel type: Propane
  • Cooking capacity:4 Cubic Feet
  • Pre-heat time required: 30 minutes
  • Temperature range: recommended cooking temperature is 225° – 250°F

Available Support

Manufacturer website offers instruction manuals, warranty information, and offers phone, email, and snail mail support. Social media support can be found on:

Accessories & Attachments Available

Only a cooking grid and a cover, everything else is already included and because it’s a dedicated smoker, there are no accessories for grilling, baking etc.

Who is This Model Best Suited to?

If you’re cooking for 100+, want to open a small restaurant, or simply want to do a lot of smoking in one go, and if you really believe propane is just as good as charcoal, this is probably the smoker for you.

Other Models Might Suit You if:

You prefer smaller scale smoking, charcoal, or glass doors; other models can be had from the same manufacturer that also offer electric smokers.

What We Like

  • Generous cooking space
  • Adjustable shelves allow for smoking a variety of foods at one time
  • Generous wood box and water bowl delay refills by hours (2½ and 8, respectively)
  • Fast and steady cook

What We Don’t Like

  • Complex assembly of multiple parts
  • Lack of door gaskets (easily remedied by a trip to the hardware store)’
  • Unreliable temperature gauge


Click to Learn More / Buy from Amazon


Best Pellet Smokers for Beginners

Looking for the ultimate in hands off, push button smoking that’s as easy as using the oven in your kitchen? Then a pellet smoker just might be the one for you. Here are two of the best pellet smokers for beginners.

Traeger Bronson

Traeger 10526 Bronson 20 Pellet Grill, One Size, Black

First Impressions From Look And Design

It looks ready for competition. The Bronson 20 is designed to be both grill and smoker, baker, roaster, and braiser too.

It looks like something a pro would use. It’s a horizontal barrel looking, roll-top style with a shiny bucket attached to the side for grease collection and a large rectangular pellet hopper connected to the other side. It looks impressive.

What’s In The Box

  • Grill with pellet hopper
  • All terrain wheels
  • Grate
  • Grease tray
  • Grease bucket
  • Digital controller

Build Quality

It’s a ‘sawhorse’ chassis made from a single skin of steel, with all-terrain wheels made of plastic. It feels OK but doesn’t have the build quality of some of the other models on this page.

During use, a press of a button sets in motion the process of drawing pellets from the hopper into the firepot. Pellets are ignited by a hot rod; oxygen flow is generated by an induction fan near the pellet hopper. The needed heat and smoke are generated in as little as 5 minutes.

It’s easy to use, works well and should last a few seasons, but feels thin enough to lose heat and be temperamental on cold wintery days.

Ease of Use

To eliminate a lot of maintenance, the pellet hopper can hold 10 pounds at a time.

Two temperature probes make cooking more than one food possible without having to buy extra thermometers or probes.

The 10-minute cooldown program ensures all ignited pellets are entirely burned up, preventing the risk of flare-ups.

And everything is managed by a digital controller that indeed makes this a true ‘set and forget’ smoker.


  • Overall size / dimensions / weight: 38” h x 22” d x 35” w; 76 pounds
  • Portable – With wheels to move from A to B.
  • Fuel type: Pellet
  • Cooking capacity: 300 sq. in grilling area
  • Pre-heat time required: 5 minutes
  • Temperature range: 125 – 450 F

Available Support

Manufacturer website contains an FAQ page, service part manuals, user manuals, and recipes. Contact by phone, snail mail, fax, or comment box.

Social media support sites:

Accessories & Attachments Available

  • Folding front shelf
  • Full-length cover
  • Chrome bottle opener
  • Magnetic hooks
  • Chicken leg hanger
  • Digital thermostat kit
  • Induction fan
  • Auger drive motor

Who is This Model Best Suited to?

Apartment and townhouse dwellers, and anyone living with a homeowners’ association will rejoice at grilling without an open flame.

Its small size makes it a good fit on most balconies.

Other Models Might Suit You if:

You want to smoke or grill for a large crowd.

Also, if you don’t want multiple cooking features, a dedicated smoker may suit better.

What We Like

  • Balcony and HOA-friendly
  • 6-in-1 cooking styles
  • All-terrain wheels
  • Easy to use

What We Don’t Like

  • Materials could be thicker, or double skinned to help heat retention and fuel efficiency.
  • Wheels could be larger and made from sturdier materials.


Click to Learn More / Buy from Amazon


Green Mountain Grills Davy Crocket

Green Mountain Grills Davy Crockett Pellet Grill – WIFI enabled

First Impressions From Look and Design

Shiny lightweight appearance doesn’t inspire confidence of its sturdiness right off the bat.

The metal legs must be stronger than they look to hold up and balance the pellet hopper off to the side of the smoker chamber. But it’s stainless steel, so…

What’s in the box

  • Assembled smoker with pellet hopper and stand attached
  • Chimney
  • Heat shield
  • Digital wi-fi controller
  • Meat probe
  • Peaked lid to accommodate vertical poultry and rib racks
  • Convenience tray with utensil hooks
  • Two grease trays and grease bucket
  • Two grill grates
  • Sense-mate thermal sensor
  • Power cords
  • Instruction manual

Build Quality

The build quality is good and cannot be faulted at the price, with the stainless lid being a nice touch for some people.

The grease trays tilt to the right, directing flow out the spout and right into the bucket hanging on the side, making this aspect of grilling easy to manage. Above the hook for the bucket are brackets to hold platters and utensils.

For those who enjoy remote monitoring of their grill, the Davey Crockett Wi-Fi antenna connects owners to the Green Mountain Grill network. From there, using the downloaded app, owners can turn the grill on and off, set cook times and temperatures, and monitor the internal temperature of food. Create cooking profiles, set up alerts, and contact Support – all from within the app.

Although this might appear gimmicky at first, it actually works very well and is a nice touch, to be able to monitor and change the cook from the comfort of your armchair if so desired.

Ease of Use

It unfolds from the box, leaving only the attachment of the chimney and taking the handle from its travel-safe position inside the lid to the outside.

This is a true, pack-and-go grill; the Davy Crocketts legs fold up to be used as carry handles, and the smoker can be powered by the car outlet or even the battery. So it’s perfect for tailgating.

Setting the temperature is as simple as turning a dial, and the temp can be set in 5 degree increments. It really is simple to use.


  • Overall size / dimensions / weight: 29” h x 14” w x 20” d; 68 pounds
  • Portable – Fold and carry, perfect for tailgating!
  • Fuel type: Pellets
  • Cooking capacity: 219 sq. in. cooking area
  • Pre-heat time required: 10 – 15 minutes
  • Temperature range: 150° – 550° F

Available Support

Manufacturer’s website contains FAQs, a new owners’ portal, blog, and manuals. It also has some of the best instructional videos we’ve ever encountered.

Contact options: a comment page, email, 800 and local numbers, mail.

Social media support:

Accessories & Attachments Available

  • Grease tray liners and bucket liners
  • Digital probe thermometer
  • Food porter
  • Wood-fired pizza attachment
  • Mitts, apron, tote
  • Grill pan
  • Grilling utensils
  • Grill cover
  • Thermal blanket
  • Spotlight
  • Griddle smoke shelf for upper rack
  • Rib rack
  • Teflon-coated fiberglass cooking mats
  • Pellet blends

Who is This Model Best Suited To?

if you’re looking for uncomplicated and portable, the compactness and portability of the Davey Crockett makes it the right smoker for you.

This is the best low budget pellet smoker available in our opinion.

Other Models Might Suit You if:

If you don’t want to stoop over your smoker (the Davy Crockett is quite small) and can do without remote management, consider the Daniel Boone which offers twice the cooking area of the Davy Crockett.

Made of steel, it comes in a uniform matte black or with a stainless-steel lid.

What We Like

  • Minimal Setup
  • Stainless Steel Material
  • Variety Of Power Cords Come Standard With The Grill
  • Quick Preheat Cycle
  • Easy Cleanup
  • Portability
  • Wealth Of Support

What We Don’t Like

It cannot be used in the rain because of the electrical parts (Ok, we had to put something here!)


Click to Learn More / Buy from Amazon


Best Beginner Combination Grill / Smoker

If you’d like to flip burgers – or do some more adventurous grilling – then a dedicated, sole-purpse smoker may not be yur best choice.

You could buy a smoker AND a grill, 2 separate units. but as a beginner, it may make more sense – certainly financially – to get a combination grill and smoker, so you can do both jobs on one unit.

In this next section, we show you our picks for the 2 best combination grill and smoker on the market.

Oklahoma Joe Combo Grill Smoker

Oklahoma Joe's Charcoal/LP Gas/Smoker Combo

First Impressions from Look and Design

Commercial cooking machine. The two-sectioned smoker chamber, large dials, and generous hopper could be intimidating for a beginner.

But the well-marked dials make it look straightforward and uncomplicated to operate. The sturdy legs and wagon-spoke wheels give it a sense of stability.

What’s in the Box

  • Smoker chamber assembly
  • Handles
  • Temperature gauge
  • Burner carryover tubes
  • Gas control panel
  • Charcoal control panel
  • Hose/valve/regulator assembly
  • Electronic ignition module, electrodes and ignitor wire
  • Match holder w/chain
  • Control knobs with bezels
  • Heat shield
  • Towel bar
  • Smoke stack
  • Damper
  • Spring cap
  • Grease tray and cup
  • Heat tint
  • Firebox lid and bottom
  • Side burner shelf, lid, pan, grate
  • Lid hinge
  • Burner and side burner fascia
  • Charcoal grate and cooking grates
  • Grate lifter
  • Legs
  • Bottom shelf
  • Wheels
  • Charcoal pan assembly
  • Logo plate
  • Hardware
  • Assembly manual

Build Quality

It’s an OK build quality, better than most ‘horizontal offset smoker’ designs at this price point, but lacking in weight and thickness compared to high end offset smokers.

The Oklahoma Joe offers the best of charcoal and gas cooking in a single unit.

It has a solid heavy-gauge steel body and porcelain-coated cast iron grates that make it a durable grill if cared for properly; serious rust issues can quickly develop otherwise.

Three temperature gauges expand cooking ability without added time and cost of purchasing extras.

Ease of Use

The grill enables direct and indirect heat cooking as the back can get very hot. The OK Joe is best assembled by more than one person because of the weight of the pieces.

Being a gas grill with side burner, it’s very easy to use in some respects. But having an offset charcoal or wood burner does take some time to learn fire management and temperature control with live fire if you want an authentic charcoal cook.


  • Overall size / dimensions / weight: 50.6” h x 74” w x 31.5” d ; 205 pounds
  • Semi-permanent location – It has wheels for moving, but cannot reasonably be taken off-site due to its size and weight.
  • Fuel type: Charcoal and propane gas
  • Cooking capacity: 1,060 total square inch cooking surface (750 sq. in. primary cooking surface in main chamber, 310 sq. in. cooking surface in firebox chamber)
  • Pre-heat time required: 15 – 20 minutes
  • Temperature range: up to 450^ F

Available Support

Manufacturer’s website has guides, manuals, product information (including recalls), warranty information, and an owners’ Q&A section. Help is offered via chat, an 800 number, and email.

Social media support:

Accessories & Attachments Available

  • Standard assortment of cooking and cleaning utensils
  • Grill covers
  • Wood logs, chips, and chunks (including tabasco® and whiskey infused wood)
  • Lava rocks
  • Charcoal chimneys
  • Firebox basket
  • Fire starters

Who is this Model Best Suited to?

If you like the best of both worlds – propane and charcoal, this is ideal.

Other Models Might Suit You if:

You don’t want to contend with something that outweighs you possibly 4 to 1 or don’t want such a large object taking up your patio space; you’ll want something smaller.

If you do want to smoke on a large scale but are tight on space, the vertical Bandera Offset Smoker, with a nearly 1,000 square inch cooking area, may better suit you.

What We Like

  • Dual cooking areas allow preparing sides while the meat is cooking
  • Heavy tank-like solidity
  • Relatively easy clean up when properly seasoned and foil-lined

What We Don’t Like

  • Wheels aren’t as strong as they look
  • Unreliable built-in temperature gauge
  • Doors allow smoke to leak out
  • Doors don’t hinge back far enough for easy reach of the back of the grill (very long handled tools will resolve the problem)


Click to Learn More / Buy from Amazon


Kamado Joe

Kamado Joe KJ23RHC Ceramic, Classic II Charcoal Grill

First Impressions From Look And Design

The blazing red color is indeed eye-catching.

The egg-like shape is compact, and the wheeled stand says this Joe is ready to hit the road. Support shelves on either side provide a convenient place to set platters and hang utensils.

In our opinion, this one of the most striking looking smokers on the market and will certainly attract praise from your friends.

What’s in the box

  • Grill
  • Slide-out ash drawer
  • Aluminum chimney cap
  • Temperature gauge
  • Cast iron cart with locking wheels
  • Airlift hinge
  • Amp firebox
  • Stainless steel latch
  • Wire mesh fiberglass gasket
  • Folding side shelves and handle
  • Ash tool

Build Quality

Made from incredibly thick ceramic and weighs almost 200 pounds, this is an extremely high quality, built to last item constructed with only the highest quality materials. And it really does feel it too.

The Divide & Conquer® flexible cooking system enables cooking in the different styles of direct and indirect cooking simultaneously.

The half-moon heat deflector creates an indirect heat zone on one side of the grill, leaving the other for open flame cooking.

Tiered grates increase grilling space, allowing you to cook a variety of foods in different cooking styles.

Ease of Use

Everything about the KJ is heavy, including the dome lid. To help prevent muscle strain, the Air Lift Hinge was developed to reduce the weight of the dome by 96 percent, says the manufacturer.

To use the KJ, you have to learn charcoal fire management, and careful tweaking of top and bottom vents, limiting air flow and oxygen to the fire, to get your desired temp in the dome.

So there’s a learning curve for sure. However, there is so much support in the way of groups, youtube videos and more, you really will not have an issue getting up and running.


  • Overall size / dimensions / weight: 46.5” w x 48” h x 28” d; 188 pounds
  • Portable – The cart has sturdy, commercial quality wheels for moving the grill.
  • Fuel type: Charcoal
  • Cooking capacity: 256 square inch cooking area [407 sq. in. with grill expander; 508 sq. in. with 2 sets of grates]
  • Pre-heat time required: 15 minutes
  • Temperature range: 225 – 750° F

Available Support

Manufacturer website contains videos and manuals. Contact support by filling out a form on the site or calling.

Social media support can be found on:

Accessories & Attachments Available

  • Joetisserie (rotisserie attachment)
  • Firestarters
  • Stainless steel or cast-iron grates
  • Cast iron reversible griddle
  • Laser-cut stainless steel grate for fish and vegetables
  • Soapstone
  • Grill expander
  • Pizza stone (regular and deep dish), peel, and cutter
  • Ceramic chicken stand
  • Rib rack
  • Cast iron Dutch oven
  • Cast iron wok
  • Grill cover
  • Felt gasket replacement kit
  • HDPE shelf and handle kit

Who Is This Model Best Suited To?

if you want small, compact, and portable with lots of cooking options, this may suit you well.

In our opinion, this really is one of the very best ‘do it all’ outdoor cookers you can buy. It can do all of smoke, grill, roast and bake almost as good as any specialized cookers that can only perform the one job. This grill takes our top spot for most recommended and best beginner smoker.

Other Models Might Suit You if:

If you want more cooking space and don’t mind hefting a larger size, try the Big Joe.

What We Like

  • Smoking Kamado-Style: Moist, tender, smoky. Perfection!
  • Fast Heat Up
  • Solid, Durable Shell
  • Overall design
  • Available accessories and multitude of ways to cook
  • …we like just about everything

What We Don’t Like About the KJ

Weight can make it difficult to move, even with the wheels. But this is just an excuse to buy a Joe Junior, haha. (Joe Junior is a smaller, lighter model.)


Click to Learn More / Buy from Amazon


What is Smoking as a Food Cooking Method?

Smoking began as one of many ancient food preservation methods, usually starting with the process of salting foods to stop bacteria from growing.

After brining or marinating, food is placed over a low fire in an enclosed space for hours. The smoke and moisture coat the food with a crust, sealing out germs.

Traditionally used to preserve meats, poultry, or fish, modern smoking is done to flavor those foods as well as nuts, cheeses, and vegetables.

In modern times, hot smoking – or smoke roasting – is typically used to cook tough cuts of meat low n slow over many hours, imparting fantastic smoky flavors into the food, while breaking down the collagen and connective tissues over many hours of low-temperature cooking.

The method takes otherwise traditionally unwanted tough cuts of meat and transforms them into juicy, tender gastronomic delights.

The Difference Between a Smoker and a Standard Grill

A smoker is built so that the heat is either to the side of and away from the food, or well below the meat with a heat deflector so that no radiant heat can get to the food. This enables low and slow cooking, via indirect heat and convection.

On a grill, food is just a few inches away from and directly over the heat source.

A grill is typically used for high-heat, fast cooking, whereas smokers are for low temperature and slow cooking.

Joshua Bousel of draws a comparison between ribs cooked on a grill and in a smoker. His conclusion: if you want to keep temperature checks to a minimum, great smoke rings, and enjoy the perfection of meat that is moist and tender with just-right crunch, you’ll want to get a smoker.

What type of Smokers are There?

The Australian Barbecue Association provides an excellent walk-through of different types of smokers in the following video which we recommend you watch for a good overview of options before we then discuss each in turn below.

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OK, let’s look at each in turn.

Charcoal Smokers

Charcoal smokers are considered THE best way to flavor smoked foods by many enthusiasts. It can be a challenge, mastering fire management techniques, airflow, wood choices, and timing. But we think you’ll agree the results are worth the pains taken to master the challenge.


  • Made from wood, charcoal creates a lovely subtle smoke flavor all of its
  • One of the least expensive fuel sources


  • Learning curve can be relatively steep
  • Banned from apartments, within some city limits, and other regions or residential arrangements where there is a high risk of a fire breaking out
  • Messy and potentially dangerous (hot ashes) post-cooking clean-up

Gas Smokers

These run on clean-burning propane or natural gas which means no danger of unpleasant chemicals going up in smoke and marring the flavor of your food.

Propane, aka liquid petroleum gas, is a by-product of natural gas stored under pressure in tanks, explains the U.S. Department of Energy. Creating a gas-fed outdoor kitchen in a home heated by natural gas is relatively straightforward.

Most gas smokers look like a locker or a small thin refrigerator with racks above a tray for wood which sit above the fuel source. Gas smokers are one of the easiest ways to get smoking in a hurry, and a very good beginner smoker for their ease of use.


  • Relatively inexpensive
  • Minimal learning curve
  • Easy start, easy to clean
  • Smoker doesn’t take up much space


  • Combustible liquid stored under pressure
  • Lacking the added charcoal flavor
  • Banned by city and county regulations from apartment balconies and porches, picnic shelters or tents
  • Large meats will have to be cut to fit into this typically smaller style smoker

Best suited to homes fuelled by natural gas. For those who want to smoke but don’t want the hassle of charcoal, lighting fluid, matches and so on.

Pellet Smokers

Pellet smokers get their name from the fuel source used to create the heat and smoke.

Pellets are made from compacted sawdust and other materials, sometimes including added flavoring, but the best pellets for smoking are made from all natual hardwood.

The pellets are poured into a feeder attached to one side of the smoker and are then slowly fed into the smoker at a rate to generate the desired heat and smoke.

Max Good of SeriousEats reviews the origin of pellet smokers and notes that all modern smokers come equipped with digital temperature controllers which allow setting the unit to feed pellets at a steady rate, giving temperature control that is as easy as turning on a kitchen oven.


  • Ridiculously easy to use and can barbecue, smoke, roast, braise, bake, and sort of grill.
  • They typically have a wide temperature range, going from around 175° F to 500° F.


  • Cost can be prohibitive. The many mechanical and electrical parts can add considerable cost compared to other smoker types.
  • Runs on electricity, so an external source must be nearby.

Best suited to beginner smokers who don’t mind paying for what they truly want, if what you want is versatility, and hands off almost automatic cooking similar to a kitchen oven. They are the simplest of smoker type to operate, the easiest to master.

Because the pellet feeder adds on to the space taken up by the smoker, those who have lots of storage and cooking space will probably enjoy pellet feeders more than those with minimal space.

Electric Smokers

These are the closest to fool-proof smoking with almost nothing to learn before producing epic BBQ. Load food, press a few buttons and walk away.

They genuinely do operate like a kitchen oven: Temperature is regulated and consistent throughout the cooking process.


  • Minimal setup
  • Useable wherever charcoal and gas is banned
  • Versatile


  • Runs on electricity (no tailgating here unless you pack along an inverter)
  • A challenge to produce a smoke ring

Best suited to a beginner smoker who wants to try smoking foods but isn’t keen on getting their hands dirty with solid fuels and fire management.

Apartment dwellers will love being able to grill electrically where charcoal and fire aren’t allowed.

Cabinet / Box Smokers

AKA vault, cabinet, or block smokers – look like little refrigerators or filing cabinets.

They run on gas or electricity and are almost always made of metal.

Charcoal, wood, and water are loaded at the bottom of the unit, allowing heat and smoke to rise and circulate through the cooking chamber above.

Lacking insulation, they can be vulnerable to cold and rainy days, leading to unstable temperatures in the wrong climate.

The thickness of the metal and the quality of the insulation around the door frame and vents mark the difference between a good box smoker and a cheap one.


  • Minimal setup
  • Easy access to foods and fuels
  • Very beginner friendly


  • Unsuitable for tailgating
  • Unstable temps during inclement weather
  • A challenge to produce a smoke ring
  • Power cords may limit where it can be used

Best suited to beginners who want to try smoking without too much muss and fuss.

Kamado Ceramic Smoker

Kamados are a class unto themselves.

Incredibly versatile, a Kamado is a griller, roaster, baker, and smoker all in one, with a multitude of accessories available to aid in all these cooking methods. (Note: You can learn a lot more about kamados in our dedicated article on the best kamados available today.)

They are traditionally made of high-quality ceramic, though other refractory materials (cement, terracotta, lava rock, tile) and stainless steel are now also sometimes used.

There is a bit of a learning curve for using a kamado correctly, so it may test your commitment level with the learning curve compared to a gas or electric grill. But if you have your heart set on a charcoal fueled cooker, then a kamado is one of the best charcoal smoker for beginners.

And although they typically weigh a good 50KGs+, with smaller models available their weight doesn’t prevent enthusiasts from packing them up for tailgating and other away-from-home adventures.

Because of its design, the kamado creates a low-oxygen, high-moisture, nicely sealed-in environment which makes for amazingly moist and tender meats, even after 12 or 16 hours of slow cooking.

One thing to be aware of – and I did mention a learning curve – is the potential threat of ‘flashbacks.’

When the lid is lifted, the surge of oxygen into what was a hot and low-oxygen environment can cause the coals to fire intensely, creating a near-instant fireball. This is easily preventable by ‘burping’ the kamado when opening it though and so is easily nullified.

Burping is just opening the lid an inch or two and holding it there for 5 or so seconds, allowing some oxygen in slowly before opening fully. This prevents any flashback. Easy really.


  • Durable, high-quality ceramic that will last a lifetime
  • The most versatile of all smokers
  • Highly fuel efficient
  • Design consistently holds heat for hours without intervention


  • Cost of accessories
  • Weight
  • Ceramic could crack if care isn’t taken with its use
  • takes a while to get up to smoking temperature
  • Comparatively steep learning curve compared to other styles of smoker

Best suited to those who want a ‘do it all’ smoker and grill, who wish to BBQ, grill, make pizza, roast and more all on the one unit. But also for people who like to invest in very high-quality equipment that will last a lifetime, and do not mind the price tag that goes with it.

Best Smokers for Beginners – What to Consider When Buying

‘Only fools rush in’ – or so says Elvis. And he’s right!

There’s a lot you should consider before buying your first smoker, and following are the most important points of consideration before laying down any cold, hard cash for an investment in something you will be using for many years to come.

Smoker Type

There are many different types of smokers available, and each has its pros and cons as discussed above.

Consider your living space, budget, patience for learning, availability of fuel or power supply, and ultimately how much food you want to cook (size) and what cooking you’d like to do?

Do you simply want to smoke food, or perhaps grill and make pizzas too?

These are all things you need to consider before deciding which type of smoker is right for you.

Fuel Type

Charcoal is so plentiful that even 7-11 carries it. Therefore, you’ll never have fuel sourcing worries if you go for a charcoal fired smoker.

If your house runs on gas, connecting a smoker to the house line provides a constant fuel source without added costs or trips out to replenish your supplies.

The argument continues on whether – or how much – flavor is compromised when using fuel other than charcoal. Can you tell the difference between a roast smoked by gas versus one smoked by charcoal? (NOTE: I certainly can and much prefer the use of charcoal!)

Pellet smokers are the most expensive to run, with specialized wood pellets needed that aren’t as plentiful or easy to source as charcoal, and get burnt through at quite a rate on a long, 16-hour brisket cook. Economical pellets are not!

Build Quality

Too often when it comes to smokers, “inexpensive” means a thin material which leaks waves of smoke, fails to keep the heat in and results in your smokers temperatures ebbing and flowing with the wind and weather.

So You’ll want to find the balance between inexpensive but still well built, and just plain cheap.

Too many episodes of getting a poorly smoked roast at the cost of smoking up your clothes, hair, and home can quickly turn your smoker into just another piece of clutter in the garage.

And any savings you make with the ‘cheaper’ smoker are soon eaten away by extra fuel costs needed to maintain the heat inside a poorly insulated, leaky smoker.

A well-built smoker, that’s sealed and well insulated will save a ton of money when it comes to fuel over the life of a smoker.


Closely tied in with build quality: How well does it do what it should?

If leakage is a problem, you know the food isn’t getting the proper, constant flow of heat and smoke needed. That translates into a lot of wasted charcoal, wood, or gas, and irregularly cooked food with hot spots and cold spots which sadly equals poor results.

Available Support

Good customer service is one of the best ways to achieve customer loyalty. Weber, Kamado Joe etc. are known for their quality, responsive customer support.

Manufacturers also use Facebook and other social media to communicate with their customers and foster communication among owners.

Some manufacturers sponsor owner forums, where tips, troubleshooting, gripes, and praises are freely shared.

If the smoker you purchase has a community built around it, with owners helping each other and sharing cooking tips, this can dramatically increase the enjoyment you will get from your smoker.

Future Proof

Having mastered the basic smoker, what’s the route to the next level? Will you have to buy a new model or is there an upgrade path via modifications and upgrades of your current model?

Are there accessories and attachments – grates, tools, pizza stones – for when you want to ‘up your game’ and try out new cooking techniques and dishes?


Are you only going to cook for a small gathering of family and friends? Or regularly catering for larger groups?

How often will you use it?

Those are basic questions you should answer, to ensure you get the right size.

Features and Bonuses

Color choices include standard black and colorful red, green, silver or the terra cotta/earthenware look

Function can range from a dedicated smoker to one that also cooks, bakes, and grills

Accessories may be needed for alternate cooking methods, and in general to make the smoking experience manageable.

Material choices include stainless or porcelain enameled steels, wood, ceramic, and tile. Glass doors and steel liners are possible.

Summary of How to Choose Your First Smoker

Determining your budget before you start can protect you from impulse buying you may regret. Especially if you decide smoking isn’t for you, you don’t want a big expensive yard ornament hogging space on your patio or back lawn. Consider which would serve you better: Either learning the ropes on an inexpensive model and upgrading later – OR – buy the pricier model you’ve determined will last decades (most economical, best value decision)

Deciding on fuel type based on the information provided above can substantially affect your purchase cost, ongoing costs, effort required while cooking and ultimately the results.

Deciding if you want a dedicated smoker or a combination smoker and grill will eliminate the need for expensive add-ons or a separate grill at a later date.

Determining the amount of food you’ll be smoking – for a family of 3 or a crowd of 10 – will lead you to the correct size of smoker.


Our top choices among the products reviewed here are the Traeger Bronson 20 and the Kamado Joe.

The Traeger Bronson is a wood-fed fire offering generous cooking space, has one of the shortest preheat times, and is easy to use. That it offers a variety of cooking styles makes it one to grow with, it’s reasonably priced too and hence deserves being in the fight for best smoker for beginners.

The Kamado Joe is quite simply our favorite cooker at any price and we always recommend it, but you will have to reach deeper into those pockets compared to the Traeger.

What about you? Feeling better prepared to make that first purchase? We certainly hope so. There are so many options; marketers make everything sound attractive, putting this information to work for you can mean a smart first-buy that may see you through many happy years of smoked food adventures.

By taking consideration of the what and how of your expectations, and matching them to the fuel style and smoker types, we hope we’ve set you firmly on the path to becoming an old and satisfied smoking champion.


Product Image credits: ©

Mark Jenner

Hi. I'm Mark Jenner, owner and creator of I grill and smoke food outdoors at least three days a week on a wide range of equipment, have done so for years, and love nothing more than cooking good food, over live fire, enjoying it with friends. The aim of this site is to educate and help others to do the same.

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